RSS > ActivityPub

RSS is better than ActivityPub1.

Photograph of a boxing match, but with the heads of the competitors replaced with the ActivityPub and RSS logos (and "AP" or "RSS" written on their clothes, respectively). RSS is delivering a powerful uppercut to ActivityPub.
A devastating blow by RSS against a competitor 19 years his junior! For updates on this bout as it develops, don’t forget to subscribe… using either protocol.

When I subscribe to content, I want:

  • Resilient failsafes. ActivityPub has many points-of-failure. A notification might fail to complete transmission as a result of downtime, faults, or network conditions, and the receiving server might never know. A feed reader, conversely, can tell you that an address 404’d or the server was down.
  • Retroactive access. Once you fix the problem above… you still don’t get the message you missed: it’s probably gone forever – there’s no retroactive access. The same is true when your ActivityPub server connects with a peer for the first time: you only ever get new content after that point. RSS, on the other hand, provides some number of “recent” items the moment you first subscribe.
  • Simple subscriptions. RSS can be served from a statically-hosted single file, which makes it suitable to deploy anywhere as well as consume using anything. It can be read, after a fashion, in anything from Lynx upwards.

RSS ticks all these boxes. If I can choose between RSS and ActivityPub to subscribe to your content, and I don’t need a real-time update, I’m probably going to choose RSS.

Footnotes

1 I feel like this statement needs a few clarifications and caveats, but my hot take looks spicier if I bury them in a footnote!

  • By RSS, I mean whichever pull-based basic HTTP you like, be that Atom, JSON Feed, h-entry, or even just properly-marked-up HTML5: did you know that the <article> element is intended to be suitable for syndication use?
  • Obviously I appreciate that RSS and ActivityPub are different tools for different jobs, and there are doubtless use-cases for which ActivityPub is clearly the superior solution.
  • I certainly don’t object to services providing both RSS and ActivityPub as syndication options, like Mastodon does, where both might be good choices.
Photograph of a boxing match, but with the heads of the competitors replaced with the ActivityPub and RSS logos (and "AP" or "RSS" written on their clothes, respectively). RSS is delivering a powerful uppercut to ActivityPub.×

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4 comments

  1. Tulip Tulip says:

    Preach!

  2. Alkarex Alkarex says:

    To get real-time updates with RSS, there is the WebSub protocol, which is very light & simple, and does not decrease any of the RSS qualities.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Exactly. And it degrades gracefully: whether you use WebSub or not it doesn’t impact on RSS’s core functionality.

      (I almost mentioned WebSub myself, along with some links to other articles about the joy of RSS, but in the end I just wanted to get this post out short-and-sweet.)

  3. Jan Jan says:

    Not sure if any software currently does this, but could ActivityPub’s outbox be that RSS-like “failsafe”?

    Read more →

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